PAX Prime 2013 I played Smashmuck Champions and it was golden
There were some pretty great games at this year's PAX Prime, but if there's one new game I played that I couldn't wait to go home and install, it was Smashmuck Champions. Currently in open beta, the game features a MOBA-like control scheme combined with faster-paced arena action. The guys at the booth joked about how they hated the term MOBA, but there are few games that fit the term "multiplayer online battle arena" better than Smashmuck.

Allen White, art director for the game, led me through the matches. He was a pretty big help, answering all of my questions while I stomped all over the other con-goers. Unlike the typical MOBA, Smashmuck has a low barrier of entry, a lot of game modes, and an easy learning curve, and it's just plain lots of fun. You're doing yourself a disservice by not installing the game right now.

What is this game?

If you think of SMITE as a MOBA with a shooter-like interface, Smashmuck Champions is a shooter with a MOBA-like interface. There are no levels or gold to farm, matches are fast, and the game is mostly about teamwork, map control, and pickup control. It feels a little bit more like earlier FPS games like Unreal Tournament, with lots of game modes and over-the-top action.

However, it's not a shooter. The control scheme is not exactly MOBA-like; you move with WASD, attack with LMB, and use abilities with number keys and RMB. However, abilities and attacks work as in MOBAs; ranged basic attacks are targeted, so you aren't aiming skillshots every time you go to attack. The controls are very easy to learn, and after a few early fumbles, I was off and rolling heads with no problem.

In addition to the relatively easy and painless control scheme, there's also a series of tutorials to teach you how to play. I'm not really sure you even need to do them, though, as the game is really easy to grasp. Some of the game types are a little more unusual, like Destroyer (where you upgrade a giant death robot to fight the enemy's giant death robot), so studying up can definitely help.

PAX Prime 2013 I played Smashmuck Champions and it was golden
Leveling up? But I thought they got rid of...

Although there are no levels in the actual gameplay, there are plenty of ways to customize your characters. Each character can be equipped with a variety of upgrades, which can in turn be upgraded through in-game currency earned from gameplay. These upgrades give characters stat alterations, making each player's version of a character statistically unique. A few items change an ability for a character, giving him or her new tactical options.

Players can also craft items with crafting coins earned through gameplay. The crafted items are random, but if you get something you don't want, you can recycle it (for a small cost) to get another shot at something you want. I think this adds a bit to the collectible aspect of the game, which adds to replay value.

Because the game is F2P, there are things players can spend real money on. Most of these are cosmetic, but there are boosts to speed up progression such as XP or coin boosts (as in League of Legends).

Custom games, lobbies, and a training mode

Although Smashmuck has normal matchmaking like a typical online game would have, it also features custom match lobbies where players can adjust match settings, allowing them to set up their own "fun matches" or even host player-run tournaments.

More interestingly, the game features a practice mode where you can test-drive any character in the game and mess around with his or her abilities. This is such a wonderful function; I really wish more games did this. In other MOBAs, I've had lots of situations where I've been interested in a character but didn't know exactly how his or her mechanics worked, so I had to either wait until a free rotation or take a risk with hard-earned game currency. Smashmuck Champions takes the risk out of the equation and also lets you see characters you might not want to play but might want to learn how to beat. I was talking with a friend about how it sucked that the MOBAs we played didn't have a practice mode for counter-matchups shortly before I demoed Smashmuck, so I literally squealed when I heard that Smashmuck had one, as though my selfish demands had been answered.

PAX Prime 2013 I played Smashmuck Champions and it was golden
Smashing the competition

Allen helped walk me through the various systems as I jumped into my first match. We played 3v3 Conquest (the control point gametype) with three control points, one near each team's base and a third on an island in the south side of the map. I played Kilowatt, a ranged damage dealer with some powerful stuns. His mechanics actually seemed similar to League of Legends' Annie, a character I'm not super fond of.

My teammates had a lot of the game under control, so I mainly just backed them up. My biggest trouble was actually hardware problems with the mouse; it didn't stretch far enough into my play area, so I had problems moving it around. I took to the game fairly well, firing my skills off into empty space to charge up my stun.

In my second game, I had a little more time to pick my character, and I chose Mainframe, a defensive ranged attacker with a lot of area control abilities. Our teams ended up almost exactly the same, with both having the same tanky-bot and a Mainframe.

I fared a lot better that round in spite of my team. Fortunately, I was able to lock enemies down 1v2 and generally control the map with my fire trail ability, deployable turrets, and satellite strikes. Despite the general noobness of my ally players, we hoarded pickups like a total boss and kept the enemy team from doing literally anything. We took all three capture points at several points, and even with three enemy players on their home point, I managed to lead one of my allies in to take out all of them. We ended the game 4-0, my team having a decisive victory.

I was super impressed with Smashmuck Champions. It rewarded teamwork and smart, tactical play, while at the same it was easy to learn and more fun than anything I demoed on the PAX floor. Even if you're not normally into the MOBA scene, I recommend it as a fun game to just play. The matches are short and don't feel stressful or demanding like a lot of competitive games do. I was a bit skeptical walking in, but I came out of the booth a believer.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 30th to September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

This article was originally published on Massively.